More to attractions than meets the eye…

More to attractions than meets the eye…
Gettysburg Civil War Monument
Mom on her honeymoon at Gettysburg Civil War National Park

Attractions have a lot of complicated parts, both intangible and tangible. They have a wider impact that many realize.  A whole mess of questions in a complicated world.

Attractions evolve from the three environments:  socio-cultural, economic, and physical (natural and man-made).  They take many forms and trying to define them can be a delicate journey.  They are a composite of activities that the tourist can partake in and use. Attractions can ‘attract’ a host of visitors, but more than likely it is not homogeneous.  Something that can’t be generalized across all markets.  More than likely, a niche market will be their primary source of revenues.

Motivation is tricky to decipher and study.  The reasons drawing, pushing and pulling tourist to a site is as particular to one person as another.  Case in point my mother and our annual trips to historic sites.  Deep down I don’t think she liked visiting Williamsburg or Gettysburg or other historical site.  I don’t know.  She’s never been a fan of hot weather, preferring spring and fall for travel.  The beach to the oppressive heat and humidity of the countryside.  Maybe I don’t know what she likes.  And therein lies the conundrum of tourist researchers.  Do we know who our visitors are, and what they like?  Do we really know what attractions to build or create for tourists?

Mom at Atlantic City
Mom at Atlantic City

Attractions have many purposes.  They are a composite of a host of activities and services that cater to a varied population of tourists.  Take away any resource within that matrix of services and the system fragments.  That fragmentation can be induced by tourist as well as the industry itself.  Attractions are part of a greater value chain.

Take away one and suffering occurs.  Take away the primary reason for tourist to visit, and the whole system suffers.  The impacts are far-reaching.  The multiplier effect drops in function and revenues do not circulate through the many layers.

Once an attraction changes, matures, stagnates or declines, tourist motivations will shift and change.  They will choose something else.  And then the area in which it is embedded spirals downward and declines.  And unless this erosion is stopped, halted, the host community will continue to suffer.  There will be no reason to go to the area.  Thus, schools can’t be built or remodeled, hospitals will close, services will pull out of the area leaving a shell of a community.

I’ve seen it first hand.  My hometown in Pennsylvania suffers from the decline and closure of industry.  Relying on tourism for most of its dollars.

Johnstown, PA
View from the Incline Plane of Johnstown, PA

Johnstown, PA is an old town, settled in 1770.  The only reason people would have a reason to visit there now is because of a natural disaster back in 1889.  The Great Flood was the largest man-made disaster up until 9/11. The event killed 2200+ people and leveled the prosperous steel town.  Now, since steel has pulled out, the city is a shell of its former self.  Still a beautiful place to live, but survival hinges on the National Monument to the Flood as well as several key events throughout the year.

Thunder in the Valley is a motorcycle rally that happens every June.  Last year, 2016 was one of the best turnouts because of the beautiful weather and increase in services available.  As reported in the Tribune:

When the weather cooperates, the four-day event has drawn as many as 200,000 people to the area – and this weekend was likely no exception, said Lisa Rager, executive director of the Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Motorcylces line Johnstown, PA streets during Thunder in the Valley
Motorcycles line Johnstown, PA streets during Thunder in the Valley

That is a lot of people traveling to a small town in southwestern Pennsylvania for three or more days.  To a town that has limited resources to host 200,000 people over three days.  Maybe it does.  Maybe I don’t know the exact carrying capacity of the area or the extent of services.  Yet, think of the revenues generated from a host of sources.  How many jobs are created just for that weekend?  How much revenue is generated from event sales?  And then that revenue is circulated through the community.

Budweiser Clydesdales
Budweiser Clydesdale at Thunder in the Valley

Therefore, attractions are classified as something that generates some form of revenue.  They sell an entrance fee or cluster a host of services around it to generate revenue.  Take it away and revenues are lost.  Some people do not understand that concept.  What the community loses.

And sometimes that happens when motivations shift over time and choice is directed elsewhere.

Sometimes we lose attractions through other means.  How will the Caribbean rebuild after the devastating hurricanes?  How much will the islands alone lose from the loss of cruise ship revenues?  A host of questions.

A loss of revenue for the catchment area means a loss of revenues to circulate through the system.  A loss of future development.  Attractions can be the reason some businesses are drawn to the area.  This past summer I was at home during the annual Thunder.  One of my favorite motorcycle companies had heard about Thunder and was making its first appearance.

Ducati Logo
Ducati Logo ©Ducati

Ducati had come to town.  I would have loved to have visited the Rally but personal plans got in the way.  Yet, with such a famous brand drawn to this event, others followed.  The weather dampened the festival for the first day, but more than made up for it the last two, giving Ducati and others the chance to showcase their products.  I’m sure Harley Davidson enjoyed the friendly competition.  Throughout the 19 years this event has been held in Johnstown, it has evolved to what it is today.  An attraction that is just not for bikers.  It caters to a host of different types of tourists.  And that is important if the event is to continue.

I try not to be political in class or here.  But I can’t go without addressing certain issues effecting tourism today.  The destruction of certain attractions must be discussed if we are having an honest conversation about tourism.  The recent destruction of Civil War Monuments and the potential for more changes in that landscape.  Try to see and envision all sides.  Try to understand the impacts of all points of reality.  The total effect this has on the host community.

Dad at the Alabamians Memorial at Gettysburg during honeymoon.
Dad at the Alabamians Memorial at Gettysburg during honeymoon.

Tourism has a history.  Tourism exist in time and space.  The reasons for attractions and construction of attractions is particular to each stakeholder given that time and space.  The reasons for travel have varied through the generations that have engaged in the activity.  It has its positive and negative connotations. Good and bad.  The tourism landscape has countless stories to tell to explain the history of civilization.  Tourism is an action and behavior.  Tourists engage with a variety of landscapes.  Host communities rely on tourists for revenues.  If the main reason for travel is gone, people will shift their actions and behaviors.  They will go elsewhere.

We are all stewards of this landscape.  This landscape needs all sides to understand the implications to all three environments and participants.  All voices must be heard and considered.

A host of questions must be asked before action is taken.  We must be sympathetic and empathetic to the multiplier effect.  And the multiplier effect is not just revenues any more.  It is more.  Again, I stress that all voices must be heard and considered.

Sense of Belonging…

Sense of Belonging…
Stormy skies over Ring of Brodgar

Stormy skies over Ring of Brodgar, Orkney

So my tourism class has finished up for the most part motivation and I am sitting here reflecting on what we talked about.  I tried to convey to the students that they have to develop their own understanding of the functions of motivations for their own career aspirations.  To apply what we learn to their own passions, and how this will aid in becoming a better overall manager.  Yet, I continue to ponder the questions in my own life as a tourism researcher, as a tourism educator.

Why do people travel?  Why do we feel a kindred spirit with certain destinations?  Why are we tugged towards something that we have never really been before, and feel at home?  Why do we have a physiological, psychological, and cognitive response to a destination?  Finding out those answers is gold for a destination marketing organization.  If we can hook the heart of people, and have them make a decision, choose one destination over another, then we have succeeded at the function of promotion.

Yet, I always thought there was more to this behavior.

What are those feelings that tug at the heart, that sense of belonging that makes you return again and again to the same space, the same landscape?

What is that longing for a place?

It isn’t easy to articulate truthfully for some of us.  We are all drawn to a destination to fulfill some hierarchy of need.  Some hedonistic want to ‘see’ for ourselves what all the hype is about.  Sometimes, I can’t understand some over the top reactions to the elements of life.  I was never one to like concerts.  The behavior of participants that this was the be all to end all, that if they weren’t part of the equation, their life would somehow be less fulfilling.  I have only been to two rowdy concerts in my life, and sat in wonderment at the behavior of people.  It was nuts.  More than half the time I couldn’t hear the music for all the screaming.  I didn’t appreciate or enjoy those experiences at all, and will never again participate in such an event.

Outlander Season 2 EW photoshoot
Outlander-Caitriona-Balfe-and-Sam-Heughan-photographer MARC HOM for EW

I wouldn’t pass a moment to utilize STARZ’s Outlander as a teaching tool.  And I can’t understand some of the fan reaction to the program.  As I have stated before, the Scottish landscape figures as a character in the books by Diana Gabaldon’s series of time-travel books, and in the television show.  The marketing people are having a field day trying to gage and understand their audience.  Both participants flit from one spectrum to the next, and it is fun to watch from the sidelines.  Sometimes even take part.  Granted I am a fan of the show, for the most part the books, but I’m more of a ‘fan’ of the landscape, the country that it is based upon.  Scotland means more to me than words on a page, or the characters created and brought to life in a TV show.

But to each his or her own.  More than likely those words, just like Scott’s are an embellished representation of the genuine nature of a land, of a people, of a society.

Sense of belonging to me is not so boisterous.  Sense of belonging isn’t some fad that comes and goes.  True appreciation and enjoyment is long-standing, loyalty and more.  You know the bad exists, but the good overrides any hyped up contextualized or marginalized representation.  The true heart of the three environments that tourism and its properties are derived from (economic, sociocultural, and natural/man-made {built}) runs through deep layers of complexity.  Marketing isn’t an easy function of promotion, understanding motivation even harder.  Sometimes people get it wrong, but we hope we get it right.  Sometimes we won’t fulfill the implied promises, and people will be let down.  Their expectations won’t be met, but sometimes…you have to leave what you have envisioned through books, movies, tv, and even word of mouth, and look for yourself what is there.  Let go of all your baggage that you bring with you, and look, immerse yourself in the landscape to find that fulfillment.  As our part of tourism credo goes,

“travel with an open mind, and gentle heart”.

There is a shift in today’s marketing environment because of the interface of technology, and the use of differing platforms.  We are more in-touch than those that came before, those that had limited technology and accessibility to the variety, the diversity that is our world.  People see more, do more, have the capability of understanding more, and broaden their horizons.  Marketing is becoming more complex and transparent.  Creditability and trust are rooted in the genuine.  More and more are deciphering fact from fiction, and acting on it.

The Mantra I teach my students, and I hope that they remember is this…

Recall you are selling the right product [to the right person] at the right time, for the right price, for the right place or location, having the right promotion, engaging the right people, utilizing efficient and effective processes, and using truthful, physical evidence, that is stories and testimonials to engage with your customer…

So sense of belonging is as complex as any other concept I strive to impart.  And it will take a lifetime to understand.  Heck I haven’t even touched on this part of inter-relationship to authenticity.  Shudder…

{There is a case study in here somewhere…ha ha ha}

Place Attachment and more…

Place Attachment and more…

Doune CastleDoune Castle, Scotland by Lost in Scotland

Today in class I continued our discussion about tourism, the tourist, the supply/value chain, and started in on place attachment for our guests, and then the tourist organization develop and promote a destination.  This will lead into tourist motivations, and economic and socio-cultural impacts of tourism on a destination.  For this post, let me again dive into Scotland, and use Outlander as an example.

As I stated in a previous post, throughout the ages, storytelling has been an intricate part of tourism development.  19th century authors like Scott, Stevenson, Burns, Barrie, and their modern-day counterparts, Rankin, McDermid, Banks and others, and even US writers like Canham, and Gabaldon have created literary works that use the landscape of various destinations, most notably Scotland, as a secondary character.  Landscapes figure heavily in the development of their characters.

If anyone understands the process of writing, research is a must.  Joseph Campbell’s life work was understanding the intricate nature of mythology in all cultural realms, and how storytelling was developed to communicate those unique nuances.  His Hero’s journey explains to a certain extent how we move through the landscape, the three environments. That is the socio-cultural, economic, and natural/physical (man-made) environments, and how they shape our behaviors.

Writing ProjectThe Writing Project by Lost in Scotland, feature the Hero’s Journey as developed by Vogler, and Campbell

For instance…

The Grand Tour has been around for centuries, long before its commercialization in the early, and middle 19th centuries.  It really had its origins well before the 16th century, if we care to argue that point.  The form and function were different, but still an idea that evolved as society evolved.

So, back to understanding place attachment, and really authenticity, because I spent a lot of time covering those two aspects in class.  Place attachment really is about understanding ‘place’.  Whether you travel for business, or hedonistic reasons, place figures prominently in any decision-making.

I can’t explain this any better than by using stories.  As a child, young adult, I wasn’t the one that had posters on my wall of the latest and supposedly greatest rock star, or bands of the day.  I had maps from Nat Geo.  I would covet them from the magazine well before my history teacher of a father could garnish them and take them to school.  I studied them and the magazine.  And I fondly remember being enthralled when examining the pictures.  They are what hooked my eyes, drew me in to explore, and read.  I’m sure there was an article featuring Scotland in those days, and I was drawn by the mystical nature of Glencoe Pass, or Eilean Donan Castle.

Eilean Donan Castle PanEilean Donan Castle by Lost in Scotland

To date, I don’t think genealogy figured into that first ‘hook’, though today it does since I can now trace my lineage back to the early King’s of Scotland, and several noted historical figures…I was more hooked by the pictures, than the words, the surreal beauty, hungry to know this place, to know how to take such pictures.  If I was 9 years old, and had received my first camera, then yes, I wanted to be the next Ansel Adams, and that is the place I wanted to take pictures.  (And yes, Ansel Adams was on my wall too).

Fast forward to now, and what I’m trying to convey.  That evolution of thought on my part, the evolution of my understanding, and immersion in a certain place developed my sense of place, my place attachment, and therefore the variable that is place.

Why do we have this intangible understanding that we need to be some where?  What is it that draws one to a country other than their own, and feel a need to visit?  What is that ache that draws you to a destination, and makes you want to stay?  We can and can’t articulate place or sense of place very well, because it evokes an emotional response that makes us do something.  Creates an action in us all to move.  Even to migrate to and live.  I lived in Scotland for almost seven years, and if someone would give me the opportunity, I would move back there in a heartbeat.

Tourism developers, marketing personnel use sense of place, place, place attachment, and your emotional need to induce one to make a decision over another.  Tourism is a highly competitive industry, and any marketing firm, any destination tourist board, wants you to pick their destination over another.

And film, tv figure in that game.

We read books, we ready magazines, and watch films.  We immerse ourselves in our hobbies, our other needs and wants, and develop a sense of identity, a sense of self by extending our understanding, and range of exposure.  We gather tidbits, and trinkets about these stories.  We gather other people around us with like interest, and listen to their stories about their adventures, which may include visitation to the destination depicted in the story.  Okay, I will freely admit, I have read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.  I enjoyed the first and have read about three of the books, maybe four.  I started back in 1992/3, well after my love affair with Scotland started.  My first real foray into literature with the landscape of Scotland as a character was Scott, Burns, and Stevenson.  And then Marsha Canham’s, The Pride of Lions.  Alright, so I like romance novels, and action.  All of these authors hit on my need and want for excitement, and a bit of sexiness.  Heck, the landscape is sexy.

I couldn’t get into more of Gabaldon’s books because life happened.  I had plans, and well I have to say, her research was flawed in that first book (that she has supposedly fixed) and that irked me no end.  Especially, after I was conducting my own research later on as a Master’s student and PhD student.  The books lost a bit of the luster it had once I found those parts.  After my first visit to Scotland in 1993, and a kind, petite elderly lady encounter in a garden in Inverness, I had to make it back permanently to Scotland.  As the lady told me, “Ye need to return again.  Scotland needs ye.”  Don’t ask, but I had chills for days after that meeting.  Being compared to a ghost is not to my liking, and that is another story altogether.

So back to place, sense of place, and place attachment.  I knew from that first visit to Scotland, I was, using the old Scots vernacular, ‘hame’.  It ticked all the boxes, and I felt a certain attachment, link to the land and the people.  I can’t explain it.  And that is what destination marketing does.  It takes all these elements, these pictures, sounds, emotions, and develops promotional material to aid you in realizing this connection.

Doune Castle used for Castle Leoch in STARZ original series Outlander.
Doune Castle used for Castle Leoch in STARZ original series Outlander. Adapted and based on the books by Diana Galbadon.

Heck, Outlander, the STARZ show, adapted and based on Gabaldon’s books, illustrates a time-honored tradition.  Thomas Cook, whether he realized it or not, and subsequent writers, and tourism suppliers have created hooks to draw you in.  To connected you with the place, the landscape depicted in the books.  Even VisitScotland is on the bandwagon, connecting the dots, the supply chain, marketing, and creating itineraries that take in the tv filming sites for tourist.

Blackness Castle (my picture and then used as a set for Outlander)

They are creating an experience, even though that representation might not solidify with the actual truth of a people.  History has been muddied by more than one historical fiction writer, this writer included, though most ardent authors will stay to the facts, and twist them into their own reality.  Too many readers will catch them out if they don’t do their homework as I did with Gabaldon’s first edition.  I love maps, and don’t get me started on the map in the latest edition of Outlander that has Culloden in the wrong place.  But that’s my hang-up and not lose sight of the enjoyment.

Doune Castle in the background of STARZ Original Series Outlander.
Doune Castle in the background of STARZ Original Series Outlander.

But the people who inhabit a landscape are shaped by that landscape.  On Wednesday, I get to speak to two geography classes about Scotland and the landscape.  How the topography of the land more than helps to influences the development of a culture, of a society.  The history of Scotland and its people are more than just tied to the land, the land helped to meld and form the culture.  The variety of that culture is tied to the division of land and its markers.  Now, today the Scottish people would be affronted by the way I have explained that.  Yet, the Highlands, and the Highland culture have their nuances, as compared the Borders that were highly influenced by their neighbors to the south, England.

To explain more would take more than one blog post, and I am again diverging onto another tangent.  Let me suffice in way of explanation, that the land defines a nation.

We wouldn’t have the iconographic representations of Scotland, the souvenirs based on certain elements if it wasn’t for the land, and the resources one could exploit.  Think sheep, think wool, think the process of making that wool, think plaid, think tartan, and that leads us to souvenirs.  Souvenirs, whether commercial or otherwise (think of the sea shells you pick up on the beach, or the rock you pick up in the national park), they are private representations of a hedonistic past time.  They relate back to that experience, and a tourist want to be able to relive their past experience.  Outlander has a shop online for the fans to dive further into the show, and such.  Even purchases that are latent or after the fact.  Recently, I indulged my love for Scotland by ordering back bacon (bacon sarnies) and Balmoral smoked salmon from my favorite shop, and even purchased a Jacobite era glass that is a historical rendition of the ones used during the mid-18th century.

 

So in tourism, place, place attachment, and sense of place has a host of meanings.  The question I left with the students though now is authenticity, and how we define it now in a modern world.  What is truly an authentic experience anymore?  Has it changed.  And what about heritage?  Historical tourism…Good questions for next time.

We’ve come a long way…baby…

We’ve come a long way…baby…

At the Airfest today We’ve come a long way …baby.  That is in tourism.  No conversation in tourism can escape the history and development of the industry.  It is one of the oldest industries in the world, and will survive even in the hardest times.

Fairey Gannet XT 752
Fairey Gannet XT 752
Fairey Gannet XT 752
Fairey Gannet XT 752

If you map out a historic timeline, especially innovations in transport, or the use of money & credit, lodging, and every other aspect of tourism,  these advances are mirrored with the advances of man and their need, want to travel. We as an industry have pushed for a host of technology to aid in the planning process.

What is the next big innovation?  What are we going to develop to take us to the next level?  Do we even have the innovators out there to see us to that level?  Everyone is so caught up in developing apps, and other platforms for mobile technologies that they fail to recognize or even acknowledge that travel is now becoming far more expensive for a host of people.  Expensive even in the basics, like maintaining your own car, putting gas in the tank, and utilizing the poor roads that crisscross this nation.  That a form of isolationism is creeping back into our society.  How many would rather stay at home now then face the roads, and the headaches it could cause?  Or even the airport with its congestion and delays?  Sure our backyard is full of wonders to explore, but like many, I want to travel further, farther than my current zip code.

My wander bug crickets loudly and is becoming more pronounced.  Yet, I am strapped for cash due to other responsibilities.  That vision of traveling every three years to Scotland is in the past, and must be re-evaluated.  I may not be the only one with such ambitions, but reality takes a chunk of change out of the planning process.  This begs a question.

Have we reached a stagnation point in the tourism life cycle?  Are we on a decline?  Is travel abroad or even domestically reverting back to a luxury item?  Certainly, our eyes are bigger than our stomachs at the moment.  And the new planes, the new innovation to use a form of space travel, is far too costly and an elite luxury item.  Maybe that has even stalled.  Who said, “the road is paved with grand intentions…” ~ mind the pot holes…

What if we got back to basics?  What if we returned to simpler motivations, and apply them today?  What if we applied common sense, and people started to wise up, especially those bent on destroying a good thing.  The average cost of an airline ticket hovers around $350 if you examine the statistics published by the Bureau of Transportation.

Avg Cost of Airline Ticket ~BoT
Average cost of airline tickets for three major areas…https://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/airfares/compare/airports-metropolitan-areas/chart/MSP/ORD/WASMETRO

As you can see it has come down compared to 1995.  Yet, is this skewed?  Those numbers for 1995 are adjusted to inflation.  And any economist will tell you, what you bought for a dollar yesterday is not the same as what you bought today.  There are a host of variables when it comes to understanding value, especially from a consumer standpoint.  And this doesn’t take into account the seasonality of tourism.  But are companies hurting not just the consumer, but also, themselves by not understanding value?  Have they lost insight into what value truly means?

I priced out several tickets to Scotland for next summer, and the hidden fees were astronomical.  I was surprised that Virgin allowed me to see the breakdown of the $1200+ ticket for peak season.  (Believe me, I know that you are going to be paying a hefty price for peak season, and distance is a factor.)  Carrier imposed charges were more than 38% of the total cost.  Is that for fuel (they say so, but um…that seems a lot, especially if you fill every seat and at different class prices…$7000 for a seat in upper class, and includes a chauffeur? (can you hear me saying whoop de do???))  Is that for services on the flight?  Is that for food?  Is that for security? (actually no, security is built into the taxes and only cost a measly $5.60 for the 9/11 tax).  The base price of the ticket to just step on the aircraft, and sit down in economy was $510 dollars (42% of the cost).  To me that is for the service, that is for all the quirks, and nuances…that Virgin delivers.  It should also cover the fuel…let’s just say the mystery of how the cost structure is broken down seems a little fishy to me…but then again…I don’t have all the information and can’t give you true, informed opinion.  Virgin posted at $22m dollar profit before taxes last year, up from the year’s previous losses.  Um….

So the question remains, are we stagnating in the tourism life cycle, especially in transportation.  Are airlines, and other transportation offerings gauging prices to control the consumers?  Are they trying to keep most of us from traveling?  What about the promises of other alternatives, like high-speed rail in the US?  We do have an aging infrastructure, and not much is being diverted to help that area.  Even back home in Pennsylvania, the conditions of the bridges are horrible, and I cringe every time I drive across the older construction.  This past summer we had a Bridge Collapse in Ridgeway that sent three construction workers to the hospital.  If 80% or more of our population loves their cars, and we want the economy to strengthen, tourism can be a healthy contributor to that end.  I question the management of funds at all levels, nationally, statewide, regionally and locally that are invested in our infrastructure.  We want the next development in cars, but not at the expense in the lack of decent roads to travel upon or an understanding of the consumer.

I’ve given out the next assignment that underlies the economic impacts of tourism to both the host community, and the consumer.  The students are given a pseudo plane ticket to a remote destination, like Savergre, Costa Rica.  They are given variables, like a budget, and now have to map out their plans, and the effects.  I want them to see the frustration.  To see that it the frustration not only lies with the consumer, but also the destination.  That if you don’t have healthy numbers traveling to your area, services suffer.  And some don’t want a lot, just enough to keep the small entrepreneurs in business.  What happens if you don’t have those numbers coming?  What happens to the livelihood of the host community?  What happens to the consumer?  What will they do?

So…still left with lots of questions…